A Peach of a Pair
Author:Kim Boykin

“Come on, Nettie, read it,” Sue chided. But my heart refused to let my hands open the letter; I passed it off to Sue as she drug me back to our room.

“Sit,” she ordered, pushing me gently down onto my bed. “You’re being silly. It’s something wonderful, I’m sure of it,” she gushed, reaching for her letter opener. She slit the top of the envelope, pulled out a small white card, and offered it to me again.

Tears raced down my face, my neck. When I pushed it away, a sheet of lined notebook paper folded into a perfect rectangle escaped from the card and fell to the floor. Sue snatched it up while scanning the card. Her smile faded, and her face was ghostly white.

“Oh, Nettie,” she whispered, unfolding the letter from my mother.

“It’s Brooks, isn’t it?” She nodded. “Oh, God.”

I threw myself across the bed, sobbing. Brooks was dead. I would never see his beautiful face. Hear his voice rumble my name. Feel his arms wrapped tight around me, making me feel adored. Safe. Loved. The life that we’d planned would never amount to anything more than just words whispered between two lovers.

“Nettie.” Sue lay down beside me, stroking my hair. “My sweet Nettie, you need to read this.”

I couldn’t. I buried my face in my pillow. She whispered how strong I was, how life wasn’t fair, how very sorry she was my heart was broken to bits, and held me until I was all cried out. After I don’t know how long, I shook my head and looked at her. “I just can’t believe Brooks is dead.”

Sue gnawed her bottom lip the way she did when she was taking a test. “He’s not dead, Nettie.” Her hand trembled as she put Mother’s letter in my hand. “He’s getting married.”

“What?” I jerked the page away from her, and the card fell onto my lap. Neat white stock with two little doves at the top. Mother might have been a farmer’s wife from Satsuma, but her well-worn etiquette book sat atop the Bible on her bedside table. And as far as Dorothy Gilbert was concerned, they were one and the same. Except the invitations weren’t sent out months in advance. They’d been done so quickly, they were not even engraved, and the wedding was four weeks away.

Brooks’s name should be below mine, but it was below Sissy’s—Jemma Renee Gilbert, glared at me, cordially inviting me to her wedding. Worse yet, the parents of Brooks and Sissy were cordially inviting me too.

“This must be some kind of a sick joke,” Sue whispered. “How can they do this to you?”

She read my mind and uttered the words I could not bring myself to say. How could they? How could Brooks?

My hands trembled so hard it was difficult to read the impeccably neat handwriting.


Dear Nettie,

It might seem cruel to send this letter along with a proper invitation, but I couldn’t bring myself to call you, and I wasn’t given much notice regarding this matter. I also know you well enough to know you would have to see the invitation to truly believe it. Although I do regret not having enough time to have them engraved.

I’m sorry to be the one to give you the news about Brooks and Sissy. I love you, Nettie, and I love your sister. I’m not condoning her behavior or the fact that she is in the family way, but you are blood. You are sisters. No man can break that bond, not even Brooks.

There’s money and a bus ticket paper-clipped to the invitation. I’ve checked the schedules. You should be able to leave Columbia on Thursday the week of the wedding after your morning classes and get back by Sunday night. I know how you hate to miss class, and if you are also missing some wonderful end-of-the-year party, I’m sorry. So very sorry.

But the milk has been spilled, Nettie. Come home and stand up with your sister. She needs you. She’s a wreck, and it makes me worry about the baby.

Just come home.


Love,

Mother





2


Sue dressed me in a mismatched skirt and blouse and put rouge on my cheeks, trying to make me look like I hadn’t lost my mind right along with my heart. She held her mouth open, concentrating as she put her lipstick on me, a color that clashed with my auburn hair. Normally, I would have said something about her unfortunate color choices, in a very kind way. Not like the mean girls who made fun of her for being colorblind. Sue made the universal sign for me to blot, and I did. I looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care.

“I’m not going,” I whined and plopped back down on the bed I hadn’t moved from since that awful letter came four days ago.

Every day since, Mother has called the pay phone just down the hall from my room. Sue told whoever answered it that I was indisposed. Too many phone calls from meddling parents had always bound us all together, the mean girls with the sweet girls, the plain with the fancy, and me, the ’Bama belle. Syrupy-sweet lies rolled off of our tongues, and we never thought twice.

Normally, I’d worry about the lies, the threat of my mother coming all the way from Satsuma to tan my hide, but I didn’t care. About anything.